Midseason firings are a tricky choice for schools
Oct. 01, 2014
If recent history is any indication, Kansas won't be the only school to fire its football coach before the end of the regular season.
Kansas made the season's first coaching change Sunday when it dumped Charlie Weis. Last year, Southern California fired Lane Kiffin, Connecticut removed Paul Pasqualoni and Miami (Ohio) ousted Don Treadwell by mid-October.
For athletic directors making the call, it usually comes with a great deal of hand-wringing as they decide if an immediate change will help the program or if they're better off waiting to see how the rest of the season goes.
"It's not an easy process," said Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, who fired Mike Stoops after the Wildcats lost five of their first six games in 2011. "There are so many moving parts to decide what the right thing is to do."
With more midseason firings potentially on the horizon, here are a few things athletic directors take into account when making a coaching change:
KNOWING THE RIGHT TIME: The dilemma in firing a coach before the season's end is deciding whether to make a change right away or see if the coach can do something to save his job by the end of the season. When Miami (Ohio) athletic director David Sayler fired Treadwell last season, the RedHawks were 0-5 and Sayler sensed a turnaround wasn't in store that season. He believed "the whole program was in a malaise of hopelessness" and it needed to be addressed immediately. "If you really feel the decision is that you're going to make a change at the end of the year, I'd absolutely go ahead and do it again during the year," he said. "It reaches a tipping point where you just know it's the right decision. I think when you reach that point, you have to make the change."
SAVING THE SEASON: Once an athletic director has given up on a coach, how do the players avoid giving up on the season? Southern California showed last year that a coaching change doesn't have to result in a lost season. USC was 3-2 when Lane Kiffin was fired and went 7-2 the rest of the way. The 2011 Arizona team went 3-3 under interim coach Tim Kish after a 1-5 start led to Stoops' firing. "When you're going through a process like this, you recognize these young men only have four or five years to play this game," said New Mexico AD Paul Krebs, who fired Mike Locksley in September 2011 after a rocky tenure marked by a string of off-field issues. "You're mindful of that, you're cognizant of that and you're really sensitive to that, knowing a change like this in midyear really makes it very, very difficult to have a successful year. You feel badly about that."
FINDING THE RIGHT (TEMPORARY) CHOICE: Selecting the right interim coach is critical to making sure players don't give up on a season. USC made its late-season surge last year under Ed Orgeron, a popular assistant on Kiffin's staff. Miami (Ohio) turned to Mike Bath, a former quarterback at the school who'd been an assistant on Treadwell's staff. Kansas made a similar move this week by appointing Clint Bowen, a former Jayhawks defensive back and longtime assistant coach at the school. "That's what you need really to work through the rest of the season in that type of situation, somebody that people can relate to, people can believe in and trust and respect and (who) are going to give it everything they've got," Sayler said.
CHOOSING THE NEXT GUY: The biggest benefit of a midseason move is that it allows a school to get a head start on its coaching search. Sayler said he interviewed three candidates the day after the 2013 regular season ended, something he couldn't have done if he'd waited to make a change. Krebs was Bowling Green's athletic director in 2000 when Gary Blackney announced in late September that he was resigning. Because Krebs knew early on he'd have to find a new coach, it gave him more time to research Urban Meyer, a Notre Dame wide receivers coach and a candidate described by Krebs as "a little bit under the radar." Meyer took the job and went 17-6 in two seasons at Bowling Green before having considerably more success at Utah, Florida and Ohio State. "I'm not sure, if it would have been the normal time frame — an end-of-season making the change — that we would have had the time and would have ever gotten to Urban," Krebs said.
AVOIDING A LAME-DUCK SITUATION: Firing a coach during the season can create plenty of distractions and potentially send a team into a deeper downward spiral. But, as Sayler points out, it could cause an even bigger distraction to keep a coach in place when his firing seems inevitable. "I think the longer it floats around and people are talking about it, it becomes even more of a distraction, and I don't think that does anybody any good," he said. "It certainly doesn't help recruiting when you're in that kind of period where no one knows what's going to happen or what's going on."